Trees along the French Broad River Greenway

The predominant trees include: Black Cherry, Sycamore, River Birch, and Box Elder.

The Black Cherry tree is a deciduous tree that grows all along the Eastern side of the North American continent. It can grow up to 25 to 110 feet tall. It is aromatic and has white drooping flowers. It has dark red fruit. Its foliage and bark when crushed have a distinctive cherry-like odor and bitter taste. Its wood is used for furniture, paneling, professional and scientific instruments, handles, and toys. The bark can be used to make wild cherry syrup that acts as a cough medicine. Jelly and wine can be made from the fruit. The fruit may be edible but the rest of the plant can be toxic because of the cyanide-forming toxic compounds, like amygdalin, found in this tree. The tree was also one of the first “New World” trees brought back to England as early as 1629. It is now highly invasive there and in northern South America.

The American sycamore tree is a wide-canopied, deciduous tree. It can grow up to 75-100 feet tall and has a massive trunk. Its canopy is made up of an open crown of huge, crooked branches and is classified as a shade tree. Larger and older sycamores lose some of the bark at their tops to reveal the smooth, whitish inner bark. The wood can be used for furniture parts, millwork, flooring, and specialty products.

The River Birch tree grows along rivers. It is also used for landscapes and can be planted almost anywhere in the US. It can withstand wetness and some draught and grows quickly. It has unique curling bark and spreading limbs. It works well to lessen erosion along stream banks. Songbirds enjoy the seeds. Deer eat the foliage. The wood was previously used for ox yokes, wooden shoes, or other farm products. They were not logged much because the wood is knotty and spindly.

The Box Elder is native to all states in the US. It is in the maple family but has compound leaves like an elderberry. The tree is often described as ugly and weedy. The tree is very adaptable and grows easily. Its wood is soft and has no commercial value. They stabilize stream banks and shelter wildlife, but in urban areas they are thought of as weeds. The trees germinate very easily and will spread, but they also have brittle and weak wood that makes them easily broken in wind and ice storms. They can grow in most soils but prefer it to be either dry or wet.

The greenway has many Box Elders and River Birches. There are much fewer Sycamores and Black Cherries. The Box Elders are very scraggly trees and have lots of little branches going in all sorts of directions. They are not beautiful trees. However, they do their job along the river banks to keep the erosion down. Reading about each of these trees, the interesting things that stand out are the descriptions of the uses for these trees in the past. They all have some element that was used or at least tried to use but humans. I think it is apparent in the amount of each tree there is along the greenway. The Box Elder is the most plentiful and most are big and beat up which correlates to it being very unfavorable to use by humans. They have been left alone more to hold up the bank, but also because there is not much reason to cut them down other than their unfavorable appearance. Nevertheless, appearance is often important to humans, so they have probably also been cut down previously simply because a human wanted a better view.

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